Little Latisha is a poor reader — where’s the help?

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The results of Little Latisha’s recent school tests indicate that she is reading below her grade level. She’s not alone: Approximately one half of all students in the Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) did not meet the standards on the 2007 MCA-II reading tests. In Grade 10, 39 percent, and in grade three, 59 percent of students met or exceeded the standards.

Little Latisha’s school is a Title I school. Her parents ask, “Are there funds under Title I to provide a tutor for our daughter?”

The direct answer to that question is — it depends. According to Sarah Snapp of the Funded Program Office (Title I) of the MPS, tutoring is just one of the possible services available to ensure that a student reaches high standards.

Annually in the spring, Title I funds are allocated from the U.S. Department of Education to the Minnesota Department of Education, and those funds are then allocated to school districts. Each district gets its allocation based on U.S. Census data for children between ages five and seven living in poverty. Some of the money is used at the district level, and the remainder goes out to schools.

The district allocates funds to schools on a per-pupil funding unit that is based on enrollment of students who receive free and reduced lunch as set forth under federal law. In MPS, 67 percent of students qualify for free lunch.

If a school has less than 35 percent of its students on free or reduced lunch, they do not get any Title I money. Each school, within the guidelines of the Title I program, decides how to spend the money they have been allocated.

A particular school may determine that the best way to improve Little Latisha’s performance is to use the Title I funds to improve the way instruction is being done. For example, Title I funds could be used for professional development on teaching reading if the school determines it might be more appropriate to change how teaching is being delivered in the classroom.

As defined by law, the purpose of Title I, Part A funds is to enable schools to provide opportunities for children served to acquire the knowledge and skills contained in the challenging state content standards and to meet the challenging state performance standards developed for all children.

Part A of Title I provides financial assistance through state educational agencies (SEAs) to local educational agencies (LEAs) to meet the educational needs of children who are failing or most at risk of failing to meet a state’s challenging content and student performance standards in school attendance areas and schools with high concentrations of children from low-income families and in local institutions for neglected or delinquent children.

The law provides many flexibilities and opportunities for LEAs and schools to meet the purpose of Part A, explains Snapp. As stated in the Policy Guidance for Title I, Part A, in school-wide program schools, an LEA may use Part A funds for any activities that are part of the school-wide program plan. In targeted assistance schools, however, Part A funds may only be used to meet the needs of participating children.

A school-wide program permits a school to use funds from Title I, Part A and other federal education program funds and resources to upgrade the entire educational program of the school in order to raise academic achievement for all the students. In the school-wide program, the school has a minimum of 40 percent of its students receiving free or reduced lunch.

A targeted assistance school is one that receives Part A funds, yet is ineligible or has chosen not to operate a Title I school-wide program. The term “targeted assistance” signifies that the services are provided to a select group of children — those identified as failing or most at risk of failing — rather than for overall school improvement.

However, a particular Title I school may use its funds, if Little Latisha’s parents ask the school for help, that additional academic resources to be made available for her. In the MPS, for example, there are Problem Solving Teams to evaluate underperforming students and design a plan that is appropriate for them. If a school does not have Title I funding for tutoring, it is generally expected that there are ancillary programs, which may not necessarily be funded by Title I.

Little Latisha’s parents should be aware that, in addition to in-school programs, there are other resources in the community. For example, there are mentoring programs such as Achieve!Minneapolis and others. A parent may inquire at the school about such programs.

Little Latisha’s parents also have the option of transferring her to another school. Under the Choice provision, if a school is on the needs improvement list, families have the right to transfer their children to schools not on the list.

Under the MPS Open Enrollment system, families have many choices as to which school their children attend. Each fall, letters go out to families informing them of their right to do that. Parents may also contact their child’s school to inquire as to the scheduling of School Choice Fairs.

The Title I funds that remain at the district level under law may be used in a variety of ways such as administrative costs, employee benefits, etc. The MPS Title I Office states that in MPS, Title I moneys are used solely for staff and resources and related services such as translation and interpretation services to help with family involvement. Some Title I monies go to nonpublic schools, an amount is set aside for a tutoring service that is managed at the district level, and 10 percent is set aside for professional development.

One program funded by Title I funds at the district level of which the MPS is particularly proud is the High Five Program. High Five is a half-day preschool program for four-year-old children that gets students ready for learning with particular focus on development of language and literacy and pre-mathematics.

High Five is placed in schools that have a high concentration of children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch. In addition, children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch receive priority placement in the program. Eighty percent of the cost of maintaining this program is funded by Title I funds, reports the MPS High Five manager.

If Little Latisha’s parents would like to influence how Title I funds are used in their district and school, there are two main options. First, they may participate with the site leadership team at their child’s school. To do so, contact the school’s family liaison or principal at the school and ask for the schedule of meetings and how to get involved.

Second, parents can attend and give input at the district-level Title I Advisory Council. Any member of a family who has a student attending a Title I school is welcome to participate in that council. Families can attend meetings and influence how the district makes decision about Title I and how to make schools accountable.

At the advisory council, families can also be involved in evaluating whether the Title I moneys are being used effectively.

The MPS Title I Office encourages families to attend the next meeting of the Title I Advisory Council to be held on Monday, December 3, at 6 pm at 807 Broadway, in the Assembly Room on the 3rd floor. For more information, call 612-668-0472.

For more detailed information about Title I, or to receive a copy of the Policy Guidance for Title I, call the Student Achievement and School Accountability Program of the U.S. Dep.t of Education, 202-260-0826, or go to www.ed.gov/legislation/ESEA/Title_I/intro.html.

For more information about Minneapolis Public Schools, go to www.mpls.k12.mn.us.

Jennifer Holder welcomes reader responses to jholder@spokesman-recorder.com.

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